A little over a year after opening, I made my way to Bread & Olive, on the corner of Congress and Valley streets in Portland, next door to the Inn at St. John. Bread & Olive is a wine and martini bar also owned by Sarah Martin, who also owns Bar of Chocolate in Old Port, and also offers a limited menu of small plates.
When I think of a wine and martini bar, I think of somewhere cozy and comfortable, maybe a little fancy. That’s not the vibe at Bread & Olive, where the lighting is surprisingly harsh and the decor rather austere, though I did appreciate the photos on the walls. All the seats are wooden and not very comfortable. But the positive thing is that there are hooks under the bar.
One of the best things about Bread & Olive is the price of the cocktails compared to most places in the nearby Old Port; The 17 mostly classic cocktails on the menu range between $10 and $12. I went with one of my all-time favorites, a key lime martini, for $12. My drinking companion ordered a Sazerac. The Sazerac was good but not traditional. Instead of lemon, there was orange that made its way into the glass instead of expressing itself over the top, and the obvious sweetness made us pretty sure the bartender used simple syrup instead of mixing bitters with a sugar cube. However, my key lime pie martini was perfection. It featured the most beautiful graham crumb rim I’ve ever seen and the flavor balance was 100% spot on. Unfortunately our drinks arrived about five minutes apart. (Despite it being a Saturday night, there was only one table of four people at the bar and one other person who left shortly after we arrived. The bartender was definitely not slammed.)
We both ordered the grilled cheese sandwich on sourdough which came with a simple green salad. Both were amazing – the salad rivaled the ones I had in France. After dinner we browsed the dessert wines and drinks menu. When I saw a chocolate Skrewball shot for $10 (Skrewball is my beloved peanut butter whiskey), complete with a side order of candy, I knew it had to happen. Plus, my drinking companion is allergic to nuts, so I knew I wouldn’t have to share.
I was confused when my “shot” came in a cup of coffee and hot steam. Turns out a better description would be “Skrewball flavored hot chocolate.” An even better description would be “this might be the best thing you’ve ever tasted”. Transportable, for sure.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wine list. It had six glasses of white, two sparkling, five red, Sangria and five dessert wines at very reasonable prices compared to others in town, ranging from $7.50 to $12. There wasn’t as much geographic diversity in the wine bar as I would have expected, all the wines were from Europe or California.
At several points, Bread & Olive seemed to cut corners in an effort to save money. The water was served in hard plastic glasses like a cafeteria, the Diet Coke I ordered turned out to be a generic version of Hannaford’s Diet Coke (don’t try this at home), and the candy was obviously commercially produced.
That said, the bartender was lovely and the service was great, apart from the timing of our drinks. If I lived in the neighborhood I would definitely try it again.
Retired diplomat Angie Bryan writes about cocktail bars in Maine while making as many puns as her editor will allow.
Indie Film: A disturbing image inspired two sisters to make the short film Damnationland